Hero’s Song Deep Dive – PAX Prime 2016
When Mr. Smedley announced he was at it again earlier this year, he was met with a rounding mix of cheers and jeers. Hero’s Song was the latest in the trend of somewhat indie (but led by veterans with more experience in the online gaming field than half a modern AAA MMORPG dev team) projects that seem more so like Bucket List projects by tired jaded game devs than actual modern projects. Still, like Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, and a new lesser known title I met at the show, Dual Universe, beneath the name brands there is something special being worked on. These projects aren’t WoW clones, are highly ambitious, and would make most novice developers and game industry investors alike tremble. However, if successful, Hero’s Song seeks to break boundaries unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Allow me to share the secrets beneath the hood on this soon to be intensely watched MMO.
What the heck am I looking at?
Hero’s Song is the one MUD to rule them all. A long awaited roleplayer super paradise. A game that takes the guns vs butter MMO equivalent of graphics vs features and pushes features to 11. What may appear like a typical top-down Nintendo DS RPG on the surface hides a literal entire living world under the hood. No that’s not an exaggeration. Allow me to explain!
Like being a Dungeon Master? How about being a world master? Hero’s Song allows a level of control over world spawning for yourself and the potentially hundreds of other players who may be allowed to join said server. This is done in what I can only compare as the game recap of a Civilization III game with a pinch of Age of Mythology thrown in. Essentially while choosing the settings of your world, you do so in a simplified manner utilizing a series of deities to oversee the world.
At the top right of the basic UI currently offered in the pre-alpha, you will see a mini-map of your entire world set up just like a Civilization III world map. Now the choices come in, and your world changes vastly depending on which deities you add to rule over the world. Want dwarves in your world? Better add a dwarven deity to your pantheon. Like forests and the creatures that dwell within? Better thrown an elven deity in there as well. Same for mountain deities and oceans, and just so many ways to mold and manipulate the world. But that’s an all too simplified overview of what is going on. Let’s dig deeper.
See deities aren’t just one trick ponies. They’re gods. They bring godly power. That typically means that while there might be some obvious impacts they have on the world immediately, there are also likely lesser noticeable influences each deity brings upon the world. It might be an increase in rare mineral spawn, or certain legendary artifacts appearing. It might even be subtle things like natural orders of agro or city locations in your world. But it all goes to hell in a hand basket in terms of controlling your exact world creation when you start tweaking the level of influence each deity has over your world.
It's like being a dungeon master only all your controls get hit by a 20 sided sledgehammer once you hit go.
Each deity can share equal power over your world, or you can set tiers of power that differentiate them. The easiest way to explain this is back to the dwarven deity spawning a dwarven race example. If you set the dwarven god’s power at the minimum level, dwarves will still exist in the world in a weakened state. Perhaps there will only be one race of dwarves instead of three or four. Or maybe they will even be wiped out by history before you begin your journey. On that note, I’m overdue to get back to that whole Civilization III reference.
See that mini-map looks straight out of Civilization III for a reason. Once all your settings are in place, you kick off the construction of your world. Races will populate your world. Then they meet. Great people are born. Lineages are created. Legendary artifacts are crafted. War. Disease. Death. Rebirth. Extinctions. Natural disasters. I’m saying RNGesus put his warface on and rolls them twenty-sided dice all over your world to leave it in shambles. After thousands of years have passed, you may finally begin your adventure.
Real History, Real Heroes
As the ticker of news rolls down, it might do you some good to be taking key notes. These aren’t just fluff filler notes that have no real impact on your world. If a legendary hero is said to die on a certain battlefield, you might find something valuable if you dig around that battlefield. If two major elven families have bad blood, you might see an elf versus elf war that forever changes the way these NPC races react to each other. Even your own character doesn’t simply pop up out of thin air!
Rather than building a character out of thin air, you are given set parameters you want your character to be. Race, profession, and gender are yours to choose with quite a ridiculous few races and professions to choose from already. You can set your looks but the game will find a character in the world that matches your parameters to set you in the world. This comes with all the bells and whistles attached such as lineage, inheritance from your family, and a backstory complete with personal knowledge your character will know.
The one constant is that, in good RPG fashion, you start at level one with a single ability to your name. Now don’t expect every class to come into the world on equal footing. The classes and races aren’t made to be equal. Just like classic RPGs like Arcanum, Hero’s Song brings the choose your own journey level of difficulty into the equation so you can live in a world however your roleplay heart wishes to.
Before you get worried though, it’s not 100% survival sandbox going on here. While there is no main objective for your character to follow in the world, there is an end-game goal. If you can survive long enough to reach level 50, you can ascend to god-hood and become a deity you can use to customize future worlds you build! Your deity will even be based on your gameplay decisions leading up to level 50, making your future worlds unique to yourself. But no worries if it takes a while to get your first character to godhood as they still have a little over 20 starter deities to play around with.
Hotkey bars are kept concise and controls look to be your standard fare action isometric gameplay. That said with the sheer number of professions available, the array of skills you can acquire are quite diverse. I’ve seen a variety of leap strikes, ranged weapons, nets, traps, magic, and, perhaps most importantly, tons of roleplay fluff abilities. Yup that’s right, your profession isn’t just about killing things, especially if you play on a server with others. You can obtain skills related to crafting, entertainment, and who knows what else Smedley has up his sleeves.
As you journey you will come across a huge range of fantasy tropes to interact with. Some will be friendly while others will kill you on sight. However, Smedley hasn’t given up his obsession with advanced AI from the original Everquest Next project. I saw this first hand in the demo. A pack of kobolds were tracking down our dashing dwarven druid. The first two were easily dispatched with range magic blasts. The third seemed to have learned from his allies’ fates and was ready to dodge the same blast. Repeatedly! Another example came with the constant barrage of goblins. Some goblins go Leeroy Jenkins and dive right in front of their ally’s friendly fire attacks with no regard for their personal safety. Others will throw nets and strafe you, waiting till they have the advantage to strike. Plus, depending on the history of the world, the standard traits of races can change entirely, leaving you guessing just who will do what when in each encounter.
But that is the tip of the iceberg. Intelligent races will even coordinate together to defend themselves and (assumed) friendly player characters. At one point, Smedley’s human warrior was chased by a pack of kobolds into a mining camp of other humans. Recognizing one of their own was under fire, the miners immediately pulled their weapons and united to fight the kobold threat. Following the successful defense, the sun began to set. The miners began wrapping up their work for the day, setting up camp to prepare for the dangers of the night. A couple of miners even talked back and forth about what ingredients they had available for dinner!
Smedley confirmed something very unusual about these actions. They aren’t pre-programmed default behavior. These characters actually all know their backstories, know rumors circulating in their town, and understand the context of their profession and location in the world. They will talk about pertinent things that they would know, and that adds a really wild Noir feeling to exploring the world. You never know who will have info for a clue leading to a legendary artifact. Sometimes you might even learn something from reading a book, as real history of your world can be recorded in them. Such simple concepts, yet so ground breaking in the context of an MMORPG.
Dungeons and Loot
Dungeons of course are procedurally generated because, in a world where even randomness of events are subject to additional saving RNG rolls, why wouldn’t they be? But the truly wild part of this game is how rarely you will stumble upon the same equipment on a different character. Smedley wants to make loot great again. Even this early in pre-alpha, his team has packed over 7500 items into the game. This adds more randomness when you assign all these various items to NPCs, making each encounter you run into feel just a bit different. You never know when you are going to run into the Ork that inherited the Grand Axe of Human Slaying after all, but you sure will recognize something is unusual when they start swinging its shiny steel in your face.
Dungeon's are dark and dreadful. Once you're attached to your character, you will feel great unease delving into one.
In these intense scenarios, should you bring a party, you likely will encounter some of the unique combat aspects. AOE attacks and heals must be dropped with care, as there is no smart targeting system to protect friends or prevent beneficial effects from assisting allies. More precarious and powerful attacks can be interrupted as you’d expect, and there’s plenty of knock around and positioning skills to keep combat action packed. On longer jaunts into dungeons, players will have to react and deal with the body sim elements including hunger, loss of blood, alcohol levels, and so on.
I knew this write-up was going to go long, but it can’t be helped. The features in Hero’s Song are distinct enough that you can’t write off a paragraph of features with a quick comparison. Other MMORPGs simply don’t align with what Hero’s Song is trying to do in any meaningful way. Rather it best aligns with the more grand strategy games of recent years like Skyrim with elements like more modern sandbox titles like Terraria. Oh and just because visuals are simple doesn’t mean you can’t get by on simple gestures and facial emotes for roleplaying. Us old school MMORPG gamers have survived with far less than what Hero’s Song is offering.
Roleplayers will rejoice that housing is an integral part of your world – one that you must defend. Players can set traps and other security systems, and must deal with the politics and outcomes of random raids to keep their goodies well protected from looting NPCs, or players should your server admin allow such style of PvP.
On a personal level, you can expect elements like lycanthrope and vampirism as elements that can define your character. And they don’t just appear from an arbitrary quest. Someone might be carrying the original lycanthrope stone that curses holders every full moon with a transformation that forces you to seek meat. Or you might get bit by that guy an infected. Same with vampirism being spread by bites. Only unlike Skyrim vampires, your vampiric master matters. If you want freedom from your curse, you’re going to have to deal with him or find a priest with an appropriate cleansing spell.
Not Everyone is Meant for Godhood
Anyone that followed SOE’s track record should see an obvious trend with Smedley. He is not afraid of permanent death. Hell, he pulled the trigger on H1Z1 and Wizardry Online. You know investors gave him hell over it at the time. So it should come as no surprise that Hero’s Song is bringing a permanent death element to ensure that not every character will be destined to reach godhood.
The game is tuned to be quite challenging at the moment, and when death arrives, you don’t respawn without a battle. This goes back again to the world construction as you get to choose a god of the underworld as well. This impacts the type of creatures you will encounter there, how difficult it will be to get out, and what quests you must achieve to gain the right to respawn. It honestly works like a much more fleshed out version of Wizardry Online’s permadeath, and is certainly more than a glorified corpse run.
Hero’s Song is incredibly intriguing. So much so I called off my two following meetings to gain an extra hour with Smedly going over all the possibilities this game brings. But to sum up all my thoughts in one line: Hero’s Song makes you care again. Care about your character. Care about lore. Care about the actions of other players. Care about alts. Care about community and exploring new options. Care about classes and synergy with friends. What all this comes down to is Smedley cares. He clearly isn’t just out to make a quick buck off Kickstarter before he runs with your money. I can tell he wants this game because he wants to be a world master and see how his kids deal with the world he leads. If others enjoy the idea and want to join him in his ultimate game world, well the more the merrier!
Early Access is currently scheduled to hit in November. You can pre-order via Indiegogo starting this week!
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